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Benzos, Facebook, Twitter, television, Internet, food, chocolate, fast food, smart-phones, Skype, oh yeah Google plus I forgot about that, On Demand, TiVo, Netflix, movies, 3-D movies, iPads, kindles, iPhones, Blackberry.  Let’s face it; we’re a generation with no tolerance for longing.

I recently read Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot; this novel takes place in the eighties.  It’s gorgeous.  I read the whole thing aloud.  It deserved it.  The words warranted a voice. Something popped open in me when I read this novel.  It was paced so slowly.  So patiently.  I walked back and forth in my living room and read each word and if I didn’t pronounce it correctly I repeated it. I read it showing my teeth. I learned somewhere that if you show your teeth your pronunciation will be smoother, clearer.  When I was a little girl I did my homework like that.  I lined up all my dolls and stuffed animals and I played school.  I was the teacher and I would read my homework and “teach” my homework to my stuffed animal students.  This is how I learned. I suggest you do the same. Take your time. Read it aloud. This novel deserves it.

This novel somehow got me to slow the fuck down.  Which brings me to a point here.  What would a present day marriage plot novel look like?  It seems to me there is one essential ingredient to the marriage plot.  Longing.  Longing creates the tension to get you to turn the page and without giving too much away there is some serious pining going on in this novel.

“How does it feel to want?”  When I was a little girl, my best friend an oddly sexy bossy girl, her plain face glowing, her pale skin, her stunning green eyes stood there taunting, “How does it feel to want?”  I don’t know where she got it from probably TV or a movie but they were the most piercing, gut-wrenching words I had ever heard. Want want want.  That’s all I did.  I wanted my mom to be normal.  I wanted our apartment to be normal.  Then, in foster care, I wanted to be loved the same way I perceived my foster siblings were being loved.  Together we were all secrets, me and this sexy bossy little friend of mine, and so began my intolerance for longing.

Let’s take a look at some other marriage plots.  There are those from the Victorian era, like Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

I have to admit I developed a little bit of what I called my own little Mr. Darcy syndrome after reading that novel.  In Pride in Prejudice it’s girl likes boy and boy likes girl.  In this case boy is Mr. Darcy and girl is Elizabeth Bennett. Boy is bad bad bad to the bone, a liar and without money and not able to marry into a different class to support girl. An added twist, it’s rumored boy is scheduled to marry someone else. But in the end it turns out it was all a rumor and in fact bad boy is good boy and they can be together after all.  That is what I call Mr. Darcy syndrome when I wish that whomever I’m dating is secretly much better than they actually are, pensive and thoughtful rather than a stoner. This marriage plot took a long time to unravel as it took place in Victorian times and their only mode of communication was via letters and rumors.  They had to be extremely coy and weren’t even allowed to speak to one another directly if they were in the same room or Ms. Bennett could be perceived as a whore. So there was a long distance in that courting.

Then if we flash way forward to the fifties through the seventies there’s the more suburban marriage plot like Revolutionary Road and Couples. These novels feature the marriage as jailer.

 

The couples move from the big city to the suburbs their husbands drive to work. The women get depressed.  They have swinger parties and begin to pine for their friend’s partners. Here the longing could go on for a while because of all the deceit and secrets.  I mean, they definitely picked up the pace a little, and remember it’s the fifties-to-late-sixties-early-seventies so their only means of communication was phoning on rotary phones with busy signals.

Now for The Marriage Plot.  This novel takes place in the eighties. The story is boy likes girl but girl likes another boy, a bad boy, but boy, main character boy, is given little gleams of hope, a drunken kiss, so when boy goes abroad he has that to hold on to.  Their courtship occurs in a couple of mystique-riddled conversations and then a letter that was sent from the US to Europe.  The only way the protagonist could retrieve the letter is by going to the American Express office when he goes to exchange his money.  His love doesn’t know if he received it, or his reaction. There is tons of wanting longing pining here.

Which is why I realized how today if we wanted to pine for someone we could just use one of our gadjillion gadgets to track them down.  How pining is such a foreign feeling to us.  How there might be an entire generation below me that does not know what it feels like to tape a celebrity photo to their pillow and practice making out with it.   In a nutshell this is what I’m afraid has become of the modern day marriage plot:

Longing and the evolution of The Marriage Plot

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Melissa Chadburn MELISSA CHADBURN is a lover and a fighter, a union rep, a social arsonist, a writer, a lesbian, of color, smart, edgy and fun. Her work has appeared or is upcoming in Guernica, PANK Magazine, WordRiot, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, The Rumpus, SLAKE, and elsewhere. Reach her at fictiongrrrl(at) gmail.com or follow her on Twitter. She loves your whole outfit right now.

11 responses to “The Spookiness of Want and The Marriage Plot

  1. Antonia says:

    I remember having to wait until the boy was home and then call him on the phone. The panic and sweat associated with uncertainty and waiting. Remember note passing in class? How about dedicating songs to that boy and having to wait until the school newspaper came out so the boy would see it. By then, I was onto the next boy. But, I am showing my age, so I’ll leave it there. Great writing.

  2. HaHa! Dedicating songs! Oh gosh I remember calling the radio station a gadjillion times getting a busy signal hanging up and dialing again just to get a human just to make a dedication hoping hoping hoping they would hear. awww… heart flutter.

  3. zoe zolbrod says:

    Yes! I love this analysis, and you are so right about the pining! I did my deep romancing in the 80s and early 90s, and I am constantly wondering how much the entire tenor of pairing has changed in this constantly connected day and age. I remember my boyfriend being on tour in Europe during a tender stage of our relationship and my being absolutely bereft by his absence and coming back from a bike ride to learn I had missed his call, knowing that it would probably be days until he found access to the next international phone. I remember traveling and trying to anticipate my whereabouts a month ahead of time so that boy back home could send me letters and packages poste restante to Bangkok or Katmandu. I remember being handed those letters–the thrill! And the erotics of being curled up in a phone booth in a dorm or other semi-public place with the desired person breathing on the other side of the line at last. For good or for ill, it all definitely adds drama and stokes longing. I still can’t grasp that that time is gone forever and that my memories make me a such a relic.

    • Oh to miss a call! or get a busy signal. Or even worse to wait all day for a call and find the damn phone of the hook or a roommate chatting away. How many times did a friend say after all that pining “Oh crap! I forgot to tell you some guy called.” REALLY? Really you freakin’ forgot! how can you forget when it is the bane of my existence. Ha!

  4. Kat says:

    The pinning away is a wonderful recall. Someone said it showed their age, ahem, let’s not talk that. I can remember going to the movies and letting my hand sit on the armrest for the possibility that sometime during the double feature (yes! DOUBLE feature) I might get my hand held. It was improper for a girl to be the aggressor, of course. But then all that went out the window in the late 60’s and 70’s – and I became a viper for a period, just relishing the freedom. So, who knows? Pinning could be cyclical.

  5. Kat says:

    The pinning away is a wonderful recall. Someone said it showed their age, ahem, let’s not talk that. I can remember going to the movies and letting my hand sit on the armrest for the possibility that sometime during the double feature (yes! DOUBLE feature) I might get my hand held. It was improper for a girl to be the aggressor, of course. But then all that went out the window in the late 60’s and 70’s – and I became a viper for a period, just relishing the freedom. So, who knows? Pinning could be cyclical. What fun, Melissa!

  6. Tina says:

    Great piece, Melissa! Love how you start right out with an intriguing premise (terrific hook) and then take us through longing in different times/situations. Very well done. And you actually read this book out loud? That’s just so cool. Have to try that. Longing: started for me at 14 when I fell in love with a California boy when I was visiting from Pennsylvania. Long letters not very often. Think I’ll track him down right now, haha!

  7. “Let’s face it; we’re a generation with no tolerance for longing.”

    Oh, how sad. To long is to live. There is not enough damn ennui in this world.

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